Sunday, May 1, 2011

AGNES OF GOD • Avalon Theatre Company

I had only seen the movie version of this play, so when I found out that Avalon was doing it, I couldn't wait to see it.

Okay, so you've got this young nun, Sister Agnes, who's been found passed out in her room at the convent with a dead baby in a wastepaper basket.  And lots of blood.  Psychiatrist Doctor Livingstone is called in to try to figure out whether Sister Agnes is mentally fit enough to stand trial for manslaughter.  The convent's Mother Superior seems to know more than she's willing to admit, but is fiercely protective of Sister Agnes, and insists that Agnes claims to have no memory of what's happened.  Mother Miriam Ruth also believes that the conception of the baby may have been the result of something miraculous.  Well, the cynical Doctor isn't buying it.  Flashbacks of the past events are replayed with a simple turning of a chair, and through scenes with the Doctor directly addressing the audience, we learn about her own issues with the Catholic Church.  We also find out about the turbulent past of Mother Miriam Ruth and Sister Agnes.

Erin Kelley (Dr. Martha Livingstone), Sabra Sellers (Sister Agnes)
and Linda Kennedy (Mother Miriam Ruth).
Photo by Steve Krieckhaus
It's intense, and under John Contini's tight direction, has some amazing performances.  Sabra Sellers (Sister Agnes) is an open-faced ethereal innocent, whose "big scenes" were remarkable.  Loved her.  She really laid it all out there.  Erin Kelley as Doctor Livingstone has quite a journey during the course of the play, and her performance is compelling.  The more heated scenes between the Doctor and Mother Miriam Ruth were sometimes very powerful, but sometimes a little uneven.  Understand -- Mother Superior is trying to protect Sister Agnes and the Doctor intends to fully interrogate her, even willing to hypnotize Sister Agnes if that's what it takes.  This results in some rapid fire back-and-forth between these two.  Linda Kennedy as Mother Miriam Ruth was convincing as a woman desperately trying to protect Sister Agnes, but Kennedy's usual flair didn't somehow work here.  Kennedy is one of St. Louis's best, but I gotta say, with her being the Mother Superior of a convent and all, her portrayal was a little too "street" for me, although it did inject this drama with a good amount of humor.  But still, the performances of all three actors were very impressive.  Nice to see a play with such great roles for women.

The costumes by Lisa Drewel and special effects by Craig McCallister were wonderful, along with dramatic lighting by John Burkley.  The set was simple, but that's all it needed to be and kept you focused.

There are more questions raised in this drama than are answered, but I love that, because it gives you something to walk out of the theatre thinking about.  Certain secrets of all three women are exposed, and issues of the Catholic doctrine are examined, as well as the horrible brutalization of children, and whether or not, in this cynical world of ours, we would know a miracle if it hit us in the face.  And there's a little stigmata, too.  It's worth checking out.


AGNES OF GOD

Written by John Pielmeier
Directed by John Contini
ArtSpace at Crestwood Court, Watson Road and Old Sappington Road
through May 8 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast:
Erin Kelley* (Doctor Livingstone), Linda Kennedy* (Mother Miriam Ruth) and Sabra Sellers (Sister Agnes).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by John Contini; lighting design by John Burkley; costume design by Lisa Drewel; special effects by Craig McCallister.

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